This 1999 photo shows the eastbound CT 3 Expressway in Glastonbury, approaching its eastern terminus at the CT 2 Expressway. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
THE WETHERSFIELD-GLASTONBURY EXPRESSWAY: In 1955, Governor Abraham Ribicoff established a new agency, the Greater Hartford Bridge Authority, to develop a multi-bridge plan for the Hartford region. The plan called for the construction of a new Connecticut River crossing between Wethersfield and Glastonbury, as well as for the expansion of existing toll facilities across the Connecticut River. (The Authority was taken over by the Connecticut Highway Department in 1959. Tolls were collected on the Connecticut River facilities until the late 1980's.)
The four-lane Glastonbury Bridge - later renamed the William Putnam Memorial Bridge - opened in January 1959 after more than two years of construction. When it opened, its approaches stretched from existing CT 3 (Maple Street) in Wethersfield east to Naubuc Avenue in Glastonbury. In the early 1960's, a partial interchange with I-91 was constructed at the western bridgehead in Wethersfield.
INTERCHANGE IMPROVEMENTS: Until the late 1980's, there existed no direct connection between the CT 3 and CT 2 expressways. Motorists between the two expressways had to travel along local roads, as Scott Oglesby describes below:
For the first 28 years, northbound travelers leaving the Putnam Bridge met a tollbooth and a traffic light on Main Street. Getting to CT 2 required another quarter-mile on local streets. The CT 2 west to CT 3 south connection was even worse: signs directed you off CT 2 at CT 94, followed by a three-mile trek along Hebron Avenue and Main Street.
In 1987, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) extended the CT 3 Expressway one-half mile northeast to the CT 2 Expressway, and constructed a full interchange at this location. This project included the removal of the Putnam Bridge tollbooths.
Improvements were made at the western bridgehead, where the CT 3 Expressway meets I-91, in the mid-1990's. In the paragraph below, Scott Oglesby describes the circuitous route that awaited motorists traveling between the two expressways as follows:
On the Wethersfield side, travelers leaving the bridge were just as well off: to get to I-91 southbound, they first had to get on I-91 north, then take the next exit and get back on I-91 south. The interchange was incomplete because I-491 was coming through real soon now.
In 1994, ConnDOT completed a new freeway-to-freeway interchange between I-91 and the CT 3 Expressway that provided nearly all movements. The only direct movements that were not included were from I-91 northbound to CT 3 southbound, and from CT 3 northbound to I-91 southbound.
According to ConnDOT, the CT 3 Expressway carries approximately 40,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
This 1999 photo shows the four-lane Putnam Bridge crossing over the Connecticut River, connecting Wethersfield (where this photo was taken) with Glastonbury. Built in 1959, the original bridge was to be joined by a parallel four-lane span. Together, they would have formed part of I-491. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
A MISSING SOUTHEAST LOOP BETWEEN I-91 AND I-84: The CT 3 designation along the Wethersfield-Glastonbury Expressway was meant to be temporary. The expressway was intended to be part of the eight-lane I-491, which was to form the southeast quadrant of the Greater Hartford beltway.
One of the original Interstate highways awarded to Connecticut in 1956, I-491 was to be the southeast quadrant of the Hartford beltway. Combined with the proposed I-291, which was added to the state's Interstate highway network in 1957 to serve the southwest, northwest and northeast quadrants, the two routes were to form a full beltway around Hartford. The I-491 and I-291 designations for the beltway first appeared in 1958. Completion of the 8.2-mile-long, $61.5 million I-491 section of the Greater Hartford beltway was originally scheduled for 1965.
The I-491 route was to occupy a 300-foot-wide right-of-way, and a 45-foot-wide grassy median was to separate the two carriageways. Its route was to be comprised of the following sections:
EXISTING CT 3 SECTION (I-91 to CT 2): Beginning in Wethersfield, I-491 was to incorporate the existing CT 3 Expressway, adding four lanes to the existing four lanes along the 2.4-mile-long CT 3 right-of-way. A parallel four-lane Putnam Bridge was to be constructed alongside the existing bridge.
NEW RIGHT-OF-WAY (CT 2 to I-84): Northeast of the CT 2 Expressway, I-491 was to cut through East Hartford along a new right-of-way toward the current I-84 / I-384 interchange, where it was to have its terminus. In East Hartford, partial interchanges were to be located along I-491 at Forbes Street, Hills Street and Silver Lane. At the eastern terminus of I-491, ramps were to be provided to the I-291 section of the Greater Hartford beltway.
Tensions came to a head during the first round of public hearings in 1959. Fearing that his town would become nothing but a collection of highways and interchanges, and a corridor for "hostile" New York-Boston bypass traffic, one resident provided the following statement:
We're proud of being called the "Crossroads of New England," but should this highway be built, we'll be known as the "Cut-Up of New England."
THE I-86 ERA: In October 1968, when I-84 was rerouted east to Providence and the "Wilbur Cross" section of the original I-84 became I-86, the I-491 route between Wethersfield and East Hartford was re-designated I-86. The opening of this section of I-86, which would have allowed motorists traveling between New York and Boston to bypass downtown Hartford, was rescheduled for completion by 1975.
However, the southeast Hartford bypass never made it past the planning stages. Opposition remained strong in East Hartford, where some estimated that construction of I-86 through the town would increase the amount of land occupied by state highways from seven percent to ten percent. In 1971, following tumultuous public hearings in Glastonbury and East Hartford, Governor Tom Meskill joined the opposition to I-86, calling the design "incomplete." Two years later, ConnDOT traded in the Federal funds from I-491 / I-86 project to other highway and mass transit projects under the Federal Highway Act of 1973.
The cancellations of I-491, I-291 and I-484 prompted the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) to conduct the Greater Hartford Study in 1980. The study made a number of recommendations, including adding the missing ramps at the CT 3 / I-91 and CT 3 / CT 2 interchanges, constructing HOV lanes on I-84 and I-91, and enhancing mass transit. It also called for reconstructing and modernizing the existing Connecticut River crossings, including the Putnam Bridge.
SOURCES: "US 6, I-84 and I-491: Public Hearings," Connecticut Highway Department (1959); Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Connecticut Highways (1959-1963), Connecticut Highway Department (1963); Connecticut Highway Needs, Connecticut Highway Department (1967); Planning for the Future, Connecticut Highway Department (1968); "Estimate of the Cost of Completing the National System of Defense Highways in Connecticut," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Highway Department (1973); Greater Hartford Study, Connecticut Department of Transportation (1980); Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky.
CT 3 shield by Barry L. Camp. I-491 and I-86 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.